"just as monstrous and mutant alge invade the lagoon of Venice"
July 23, 2017 9:03 PM   Subscribe

Peter E. Gordon — The Authoritarian Personality Revisited: Reading Adorno in the Age of Trump, June 15, 2016.
My hope is that by reading Adorno again, we might discern how Trump at once instantiates the category of the “authoritarian personality” but also challenges its meaning. The AP study, I will suggest, contained two distinct lines of argument. The first of these arguments qualified as the “official” discovery of the research program, and its basic message is the one MacWilliams identified in the passages quoted above, namely, it claimed to have identified a new “psychological type.” The second argument was rather more sobering and radical in its implications: it suggested that the authoritarian personality signified not merely a type but rather an emergent and generalized feature of modern society as such.

The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming - Author Stuart Jeffries on why now is a great time to dust off this forgotten school of criticism.

Trump’s America and the rise of the authoritarian personality

Are Trump Supporters Authoritarians? - "Electoral support is better explained by political reasoning than pseudo-Freudian psychological projections."

Why Arendt Matters: Revisiting “The Origins of Totalitarianism”
How Hannah Arendt Is Being Used and Misused in the Age of Trump

Bob Altmeyer, The Authoritarians
This book was written in 2006, halfway through George W. Bush’s second term as president. A great deal was wrong with America then, and I thought the research on authoritarian personalities could explain a lot of it. Since then a new administration has been elected, and although it has had to deal with a very serious economic crisis brought on by others, it is taking steps to correct some of what is wrong.

However, the forces that largely caused the problems have remained on the scene, and are more active today than ever before....
A Word From Dr. Bob Altemeyer on Donald Trump and Authoritarian Followers, 2 March 2016
Authoritarian followers in America today are tremendously energized by fear and anger. They’re scared, and they want someone really strong and confident to protect them. It’s a very natural, understandable reaction. As well they’re intensely angry about the way their country is changing, and most pointedly furious with the Republican Party which has won many elections because of their support, and then utterly failed to “get things right again.” So they feel betrayed, and that is a very powerful motivator.
10 Preliminary Theses On Trump

George Lakoff: Why Trump?
& Two Questions About Trump and Republicans that Stump Progressives - the "strict father" paradigm.

Want to understand the rise of Trump? Read Gramsci
Gramsci/Trump: Reflections from a fascist jail cell
Fascism and Democracy, an interview with Dylan Riley, August 19, 2016
Now you cannot understand anything about fascist doctrine if you do not understand that their central claim was that liberalism is antidemocratic; in other words, the fascists claimed that liberal institutions cannot represent the will of the people. They further claimed that their typical institutions, particularly the party, were more effective means to represent the will of the people. So fascists were “authoritarian democrats.”

Unfortunately a lot of political scientists want to engage in the crypto-normative game of defining democracy. But it’s a fool’s errand, because no set of political institutions can actualize a “political formula.” Elected officials in our contemporary oligarchies no more represent the will of the people than did the absolutist monarchs represent the will of God.
title is from Felix Guattari
posted by the man of twists and turns (25 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Welcome to my senior thesis. The only thing missing is a section on Bakhtin.

I ... I ... I think I need to go sit down or something.
posted by aramaic at 9:19 PM on July 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


The only thing missing is a section on Bakhtin.

Robert Coover’s ’70s Novel ‘The Public Burning’ Eerily Anticipates Trump - "A vicious, albeit artful satire about the execution of the Rosenbergs, Robert Coover’s searing novel predicts our ugly mash-up of politics and entertainment."
Structured as a three-ring circus, The Public Burning perfectly represented what the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin called the “carnivalesque,” a radically subversive style of excess and satire that Bakhtin traced back to the Feast of Fools.
Hail the Carnival King! - "According to Bakhtin, the power of carnival comes from the way it subverts the rules of everyday life, reverses power dynamics and sweeps people up in its transgressive fervour. Certainly the Trump movement ticks a surprising number of Bakhtin’s boxes, including (increasingly) the tricky notion of ‘heteroglossia’"

cf. Bakhtin! Habermas! Polanyi! Debord!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:28 PM on July 23, 2017 [12 favorites]


Flagged as Fantastic, the man of twists and turns! Thanks for this awesome post.
posted by Silverstone at 9:40 PM on July 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Taking this opportunity to plug Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus which Foucault described as an instruction manual on how fight fascism.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 9:42 PM on July 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools? - "Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power."

How postmodernism is infiltrating public life and policy - "Indeed, the left itself is being torn apart by arguments over the value of some of our most cherished thinkers, for two reasons: because we are alarmed by the reality of a post-truth universe, and because our own ranks are being decimated by internecine disputes over these very concepts. "
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:51 PM on July 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


I just don't think understanding an ineffectual senile demagogue requires this much theoretical apparatus.
posted by Segundus at 11:11 PM on July 23, 2017 [10 favorites]


I just don't think understanding an ineffectual senile demagogue requires this much theoretical apparatus.

For me, the issue isn't understanding Trump himself (mad and cunning as any number of historical monarchs who wreaked all manner of havoc) ... but his appeal to enough of a populace to pull this shit off in a so-called democracy.
posted by philip-random at 11:56 PM on July 23, 2017 [22 favorites]


This is amazing and I really look forward to reading all the links.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:04 AM on July 24, 2017


but his appeal to enough of a populace to pull this shit off in a so-called democracy.

While an interesting framing:

1) America is not a Democracy. "A Republic if you can keep it" as the old saying is alleged to have gone. A kleptocracy or oligarchy are also labels that have been applied.

2) "his appeal" isn't quite right. In this effectively 2 party system if you really didn't want one of the choices you can effectively express this dislike for the 1 side of the coin by selecting the other side. But the members of the the Republicrat and Demopublican parties rather enjoy the binary choice and understand how to work that system VS going to something like Instant Run Off voting so no one is going to see a change in the 'vote against them - select me' 2 party system.

3) giving a damn and trying to effect change involves work. The 28 hours a week of TV watched by Americans doesn't get done all by itself. Same with typing in comments on a forum.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:25 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


For me, the issue isn't understanding Trump himself (mad and cunning as any number of historical monarchs who wreaked all manner of havoc) ... but his appeal to enough of a populace to pull this shit off in a so-called democracy.

Yes.

For a worthwhile read about the hows and whys of that appeal, I thank the man of twists and turns for this link... Kate Crehan Gramsci/Trump: Reflections from a fascist jail cell
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:52 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


I took a class reading Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism a few months ago. The class was only a month which is not enough time to do it justice but there were several times we would come to a point about Hitler's rise with obvious current resonance and the entire class would be silent for a for a long moment.

Then the teacher would pitch her Melancholy and Depression class to try to cheer us up.
posted by shothotbot at 10:14 AM on July 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


Taking this opportunity to plug Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus which Foucault described as an instruction manual on how fight fascism.

So, now that the right wing has adopted these postures and weaponised them, how's it working out for us all?

Time to re-read Alan Sokal and Brichment, I'd say.
posted by ocschwar at 12:36 PM on July 24, 2017


"his appeal" isn't quite right. In this effectively 2 party system if you really didn't want one of the choices you can effectively express this dislike for the 1 side of the coin by selecting the other side. But the members of the the Republicrat and Demopublican parties rather enjoy the binary choice and understand how to work that system VS going to something like Instant Run Off voting so no one is going to see a change in the 'vote against them - select me' 2 party system.

Do you truly believe that Trump himself does not have a particular appeal to a meaningful segment of the population? That would be a virtually unique read on the situation.

giving a damn and trying to effect change involves work. The 28 hours a week of TV watched by Americans doesn't get done all by itself. Same with typing in comments on a forum.

That would seem to apply to all comments on a forum, really.
posted by praemunire at 12:58 PM on July 24, 2017


Trump is a classic demagogue, which is a type that democracies have had a weakness to for as long as democracies have been around. A large part of the original design of the constitution was to keep people like him out of the white house.

As we've made our political processes more democratic, the likelihood of electing a tyrant has gotten higher and higher.

If you want to prevent someone like trump from taking power, you need free electors in the electoral college.

Getting rid of the electoral college will *not* prevent someone like trump in the future. They'd have to take a different path to get there, but the pathway to 50% will be there.
posted by empath at 1:12 PM on July 24, 2017


The other thing that lead to trump is sort of a fundamental weakness of presidential systems, which is that we can have a deadlocked congress that allows executive power to run unchecked, something that occurs much more rarely in a parliamentary system. And of course, you don't have a split government in a parliament.
posted by empath at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


My take away from much of this is those Grad seminars certainly prepared us to theorize in the Age of Trump.

The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming

I have much love for The New Yorker and Alex Ross, but damned if that click-baity headline and the 1000 words or so of chatty ruminations on Adorno's disapproval of mass-culture isn't exactly the kind of thing that would've have had Big Ted grinding his teeth.

10 Preliminary Theses On Trump

Oh God, what a steaming pile of crit-speak: "When the present has fully entered into its own formal disintegration, Trump’s virtuality will necessarily become our own." (He means that as circumstances get worse, people will more and more take refuge in fantasies.) "The present crisis being virtually ushered in by Trump must be met with a crisis of our own making." (He means we must do something different.)

(The author's 10 Preliminary Theses On Resistance is marginally more insightful, but reads like someone singing "Do You Hear The People Sing?" through a Routledge Companion to Theory. "Resistance, like life, will be defined by moments of indescribable joy and tremendous despair." (He means that sometimes things will be thrilling and sometimes things will be scary.))

Gramsci/Trump: Reflections from a fascist jail cell

I take from this that Gramsci would've supported Occupy, Bernie Sanders, and hand-lettered signs. (All, indeed, good things.)

Fascism and Democracy, an interview with Dylan Riley
Now you cannot understand anything about fascist doctrine if you do not understand that their central claim was that liberalism is antidemocratic; in other words, the fascists claimed that liberal institutions cannot represent the will of the people ...

... Elected officials in our contemporary oligarchies no more represent the will of the people than did the absolutist monarchs represent the will of God.
I boggled at that.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:20 PM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]



The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming

well, what do you expect from a bunch of geniuses who fled Nazi Germany only to find themselves stranded in California as America embraced "The Dream" phase of its devolution. That is, the Frankfurters HATED fascism and knew full well that they owed their lives to America ... even as they couldn't help but see that America was the Next Big Problem.
posted by philip-random at 12:55 AM on July 25, 2017


I boggled at that.

Why? It’s transparently obvious that representatives do not reflect the will of their electorate. If they did the UK would have capital punishment, to give but one example.
posted by pharm at 2:14 AM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


There's lots to dig into here but this link articulates something that has really triggered a sense of horror for me over these last few months:

Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools? - "Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power."

We championed subjectivity. Liberal thinkers. Anthropology. Critical theory. And now subjectivity is reaching some kind of critical level where it rules all - subjectivity helmed by a team of white supremacist misogynists with an aim of violent destruction of all social institutions. A creature in the mirror of all the questions we've been asking has come to life, broken through glass, and is coming to strangle us in our beds.
posted by latkes at 11:23 AM on July 25, 2017


Thank you for this post, the man of twists and turns.
(First-gen Frankfurt School plus Deleuze and Guattari? You've been raiding my bookshelves!)
posted by doctornemo at 11:29 AM on July 25, 2017


>Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools? - "Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power."

Karl Rove got there first.
posted by empath at 11:39 AM on July 25, 2017


It’s transparently obvious that representatives do not reflect the will of their electorate.

Don't be fatuous. It's not only not "transparently obvious" that representatives, in the abstract, do not reflect the will of their electorate, it's not transparently obvious what the "will of the electorate" is or even if there's only one.

Anyway, I was boggled—tho maybe "grimly amused" is closer to the mark—by Riley's insistence that the claim that liberal institutions cannot represent the will of the people is central to fascism while nonchalantly declaring that liberal institutions cannot represent the will of the people.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:37 PM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is an important insight. Many of the horrors of the 20th century arose from authoritarianism, in the British Empire, in middle Europe, and later in the US.

Unfortunately, the cited article is primarily concerned with analytical and academic considerations, and so is not of much help in prescribing antidotes. One distinguishing feature is intolerance, on the left or right. When one side is pitched against another, without compromise, resolutions slam to a standstill, to be replaced with regressive name-calling. The demand for someone to 'win' arises.

Equally unfortunately, we've lost the great and plainspoken voices of reason that emerged after WW2 to tell us how that happened, authors like Jacob Bronowski and Lewis Thomas. A diagnosis without a prescription is unproductive, merely alarming.
posted by Twang at 7:06 PM on July 25, 2017


fwiw...
  • Sons of Cold War spies reinvestigate their parents' case - "Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's sons tell Anderson Cooper how it felt to be the children of the infamous spies, in a story that sheds new light on a central event of the Cold War."
  • He Spent Almost 20 Years Funding The Racist Right. It Finally Paid Off. - "William Regnery II, a man who inherited millions but struggled in business, tried for 15 years to ignite a racist political movement — and failed. Then an unforeseen phenomenon named Donald Trump gave legitimacy to what Regnery had seeded long before: the alt-right. Now, the press-shy white separatist breaks his silence."
posted by kliuless at 8:38 PM on July 25, 2017




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